Wanderlust: A grand (County) getaway for these funky times

Picture perfect Rocky Mountains in Grand County.
Picture perfect Rocky Mountains in Grand County.

I was sick and tired of canceling one fabulously planned international trip after another, so I immediately answered, “Hell, YES!”, when I was invited on a trip to explore Grand County, Colorado… even though I had never heard of this area before.

After doing a bit of research, I found out that Grand County was positioned on “the quieter side of the Rockies”, the weather was holding in the sunny 70’s, and outdoor vacas are considered to be the safest Covid getaways, so it ticked all my boxes. I joined three other travel writers for what turned out to be one of the most relaxing and sooper fun adventures I’ve had in a long time.

Our trip was the perfect blend of hiking and driving through the pristine Rocky Mountain National Park (which could be the poster child for proper social distancing) while also discovering the hidden charms of the local communities filled with destination-worthy restaurants, boutiques and inns.

Grand Lake

Our first stop was the historic town of Grand Lake, appropriately named one of “The Best North American Lake Towns” by Tripadvisor. The town offers stunning lake views from just about every patio but it’s also known as the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) with three walking paths to the park located right in town.

Best Sleeps

For the ultimate country-western feel, albeit a bit more upscale than in the “good” old days, I highly recommend the 100-year-old Grand Lake Lodge which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perfect for these Covid-times is a stay in one of the 70 recently renovated, cozy log cabins sprinkled about the property.

Grand Lake Lodge is looking good for its 100th birthday.

You’ll be spending plenty of time in the welcoming local pine, wood-hewn, main lodge, where you’ll be surrounded by majestic mountain views while enjoying the comfy fire pit, a drink at the bar or a swim in the pool.

Stellar view from the Grand Lake Lodge dining room

For the budget-minded, the Western Riviera Lodging is all about the location since it boasts Colorado’s only lakeside hotel & cabins. Although the cabins are quite basic, the views from your porch are priceless.

View from Western Riviera Lodging

Best Eats

It was a dead tie for my fave brekkie spot.

Always a line at Blue Water Bakery

If you want a specialty coffee paired with a huge selection of freshly baked pastries (any of their local berry-filled scones, tarts and cakes are the way to go) then join the queue at the exceedingly popular Blue Water Bakery.

Loved the sausages!

But if you’re fueling up for a big hike then head to Sagebrush BBQ & Grill. If you want the best in local game order the Wild Game Combo, which is eggs, chuck wagon potatoes, homemade biscuit embellished by a trio of Buffalo, Boar and Elk sausages. Delish!

Even the Parker House Rolls AND the butter are homemade at the Huntington.

Our standout dinner was at the Grand Lake Lodge’s Huntington House Tavern. Can’t beat that full moon view backdrop, while dining on their Chef-inspired cuisine. Winning seafood dishes include the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Sriracha Remoulade and a flavorful Miso-Glazed Salmon.

Best Activities

Rocky Mountain National Park

The first one is a no-brainer since it is exploring the Rocky Mountain National Park, by car, foot, bike or any which way you want. Between the snow-dusted mountains, tangled wildflowers, sparkling Colorado River, 50 shades of green, fir, spruce and pine trees, fish-filled river, streams and waterfalls, this glorious national park is a photographer’s dream come true.

Everyone likes hiking through the RMNP.

Thankfully, in 2009 the small but mighty RMNP became one of the “newest” protected wildernesses nestled in one of the world’s longest mountain ranges. The park is divided in half, connected by the 48 mile Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved road in North America.

The Lake Scene

Once you’re done oohing and aahing over Grand Lake’s pristine beauty from your deck, the best way to appreciate Colorado’s largest natural lake is by renting a boat from the friendly folks at Trail Ridge Marina.

Pontoon rides around the lake

They have all your boat renting needs covered since they offer a selection of easy-to-navigate pontoon boats, fishing boats, paddle boards or kayaks.

This lakeside house was built by the Hallmark card family.

I loved checking out the endless array of pricey mansions that lined the shores as we putt-putted our way around Shadow Mountain Lake. Keep a lookout for the highest Yacht club in the world.

This Tiki boat is just one of Trail Ridge Marina’s themed rentals

Insider tip:

If you’re down to party, you’ll want to reserve (way in advance) one of their crazy fun, Hawaiian-themed, thatched-roof Tiki Boats.

Shopping

Save an hour or two to shop the eclectic boutiques in town. Since Grand Lake was originally a western mining town, note the wide streets which made it easier for stagecoaches to turnaround.

Don’t miss Humphrey’s Cabin Fever, a 135 year old log cabin which offers a myriad of upscale country collectibles (much of it is moose-themed) and Spirit Lake Traders, for all sorts of gifts ranging from RMNP souvenirs to authentic Native American jewelry and pottery.

Nightlife

It’s a little hard to review the entertainment since most of it is still sleeping through Covid. Luckily, the town’s star attraction, the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater, had recently reopened so we were able to see Johnny Cash’s music brought to life in “Ring of Fire.”

Over 1,200 professional actors audition every summer to be part of “Colorado’s Premier Summer Musical Company,” which showcases four popular Broadway musicals

This  year’s line-up is a doozy.

Over 1,200 professional actors audition every summer to be part of “Colorado’s Premier Summer Musical Company,” which showcases four popular Broadway musicals

Insider Tip:

I’m very sad that I missed visiting the town’s Kauffman House Museum. There are rave reviews for the informative docent tours of this impeccably restored museum, which was built in 1892 and operated as a hotel until 1946 by the Kauffman family.

It’s the only remaining log hotel built in Grand Lake prior to the 1900’s. It now houses a collection of original furniture, kitchenware, dolls, and guns. Even the geraniums are grown from cuttings off the original 100-year-old plants.

Granby

Lots of space to spread out on at River Run Resort

Our second half of the trip was spent by the town of Granby, which is located between the lively Winter Park ski area and Grand Lake. Not being either a camper or RV’er, I had some serious misgivings when I found out we were staying at a brand new place called River Run RV Resort Stay. Ok, I may be a pre-judger, but I’m quick to fess up when I’m wrong and, boy, was I ever wrong. I adored River Run!

River Run

My cabin had everything I need for a great night’s sleep.

They say that they are Colorado’s best-kept secret but not for much longer. There really is something for everyone here and all of it is offered ever so tastefully, be it rustic tent camping all the way to fully appointed villas that sleep 8.

Airstreams galore.

For my taste, their sweet spot is everything fun that falls in between. I mean if I were going to stay in an RV this would be the spot since they have a large fleet of too-cool-for-school Airstreams. Most are styled out with full bathrooms, kitchen, a fire pit, concrete patio, Weber BBQ, cable TV access and Wi-Fi.

Round-up at the O.K. Corral!

Next time I’m going to dibs a stay in one of the covered stagecoaches aka Conestoga Wagons. They look warm and cozy and perfect for a little pioneer role-playing.

So cozy-like sleeping in a big hug.

Insider Tip:

Word is that they are going to offer some uber-lux yurts soon so be on the lookout for these.

Welcome amenities (with more to come) include a mini-bowling alley, fitness room, bar and grill, video game arcade, sports and fitness complex, general store (which sells local meat and accouterments all ready to throw on your Weber) bocce ball, huge pool, hot tubs, a yoga lawn, off-leash dog parks, and a community center with a creative roster of events such as a charcuterie tasting

Activities

There is a whole other side of RMNP to explore from Winter Park. We hiked the five-mile Creekside Flume Loop which offered yet more stunning photo-ops.

Pick a trail…any trail. They are all gorgeous.

Then it was time for some serious (fun) drinking. There are a handful of well-crafted artisan breweries in the town of Fraser, including Camber Brewing Company that is within walking distance.

Fraser is great for brewery-hopping.

But for one-stop wine tasting, head to Adventures Decanted is Winter Park. This state-of-the-art wine experience features Enotmatic wine dispensers with 80 sommelier-selected wines from around the world. Simply buy a card, like a metro pass, put it in the dispenser and you can sample as little as an ounce to a full glass of wine. Order one of their elegant cheese or charcuterie boards for the perfect complement to the wine.

Adventures Decanted cheese boards are still-life beauties.

Best Dinner

Even if you’re not much of a meat-eater, sit next to someone who is and have them order the steak frites (so you can steal a bite as I did) at the new F R Bar Ranch Restaurant.

FR doesn’t mess with perfection.

The steakhouse is owned by a family who also own a cattle ranch nearby, so they serve only the best dry-aged Premium beef. Share a decadent campfire cookie for dessert which is like a huge S’more served in a skillet.

Insider tip:

Reservations are required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park.

From May 28 through October 11, 2021. Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park will need a timed entry permit and an entrance pass to recreate in the park.

For more helpful tips on planning your Grand County adventure check out the itineraries at Visit Grand County.

Janice Nieder could be the love child of Indiana Jones and Julia Child. Previously a specialty food consultant in NYC, Janice is currently a San Francisco-based culinary tourism writer who has wined & dined her way through 80 countries. To keep things in balance, Janice also enjoys writing about her Girlfriend Getaways which include spa visits, soft-core adventure, cultural events, shopping, boutique hotels, and chef interviews.
Exit mobile version